Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a gorgeous piece of cinema, and a fairy tale for any adult who’s ever felt alone, broken, or different at any point in their life. The film, co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, is a period piece set in 1960s Baltimore and revolves around Elisa Esposito (a mute janitorial custodian, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins) and her budding relationship with “The Asset” (an amphibious humanoid played by the continually amazing Doug Jones) being held captive in the facility where Elisa is employed. It sounds odd, and it certainly is, but it works beautifully and completely. In a way it reminded me of Spike Jonze’s 2013 film “Her”, dealing with an extremely unconventional romance.
In a post-film Q&A I attended on Saturday at the Landmark Theater (featuring del Toro, Octavia Spencer, and Doug Jones) Guillermo mentioned the movie had originally been tapped with a $60-$70 million dollar budget, but was filmed for only around $19 million. You’ll never notice it was filmed for less money, as it does look like every penny of the original budget estimate is on the screen. A large part of that is due to the production, and set design teams, and Dan Laustsen’s stunning cinematography.
photo by Joe Meyers
I believe Sally Hawkins deserves an Oscar for her performance, and in my mind I can already see the scene they’ll use as her name is announced as one of the nominees. In this role she is memorizing, and expresses so much without the use of dialogue. Equally impressive in his non-speaking role is Doug Jones, and he had the added hurdle of conveying a character from behind make-up effects. The supporting cast is phenomenal with Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s friend and next door neighbor, and Octavia Spencer as her friend and coworker. Nobody plays “unhinged” quite like Michael Shannon and he gets several moments to shine here as Richard Strickland, the man who captured “The Asset” in South America. Thankfully he transcends the two-dimensional bad guy cliche with his performance, aided by some stellar writing.
This film will stand beside “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” as del Toro’s crowning achievements. Just this morning “The Shape of Water” led all other films with seven Golden Globe nominations. Several of these well deserved nominations are for the incredible acting performances mentioned above. I loved every single moment of this film, and I hope you have the same experience as “The Shape of Water” rolls out its release to a wider audience over the coming weeks.
“The Shape of Water” Poster by James Jean